Big Time Debut | Bjork’s first solo project sets the baseline for a fantastic career.

Prior to striking it out on her own, Bjork had lent her tremendous and unique vocals to Icelandic punk Kukl and later to the alt-rock/avant-pop band The Sugarcubes. Towards the end of her time with The Sugarcubes, she began to work on side projects that would form some of the key influences on her major label debut. In 1993, Bjork would drop her critically acclaimed first solo project appropriately named Debut. She has described the cover shoot as a sort of wide-eyed ingenue coming to the city for the first time. This notion perfectly incapsulates her pure, earnest, and quirky vocal and lyrical style throughout this project.

The album starts off with her alternative radio smash “Human Behaviour”. The song was a hold out from her time writing with The Sugarcubes back in 1988, but would come to life with the help of producer Nellee Hooper. The song’s blinky string, popping samples, and prominent timpani marries wonderfully with her lyrical dive into the oddities of human characteristics from an almost outside species point of view. Bjork told Rolling Stone this about the song:

Human Behaviour is an animal’s point of view on humans. And the animals are definitely supposed to win in the end.

The iconic music video would mark the beginning of a long standing professional relationship with director Michel Gondry, who would go on to direct many of her most iconic videos.

Bjork’s love for the growing House music scene would bleed into the album on several of the album’s tracks: “Crying”, “There’s More to Life Than This”, and “Violently Happy”. “Crying” is the most playful in its bubbly beats, harpsichord blips, and organ. It will definitely get you moving in an almost ecstatic nature. “There’s More to Life Than This”, which is recorded live at the Milk Bar Toilets, is the most straight forward House sounding track. What gives it a unique twist is the sound of bar and the movement of Bjork as she escapes from the club to the restroom as an almost personal aside to tell us to let lose and let our hair down. “Violently Happy” is the final single off the album has a darker dance/house vibe. The song builds and builds as Bjork sings about almost losing it over her near crazed ecstatic state, “Violently happy/ Cause I love you/ Violently happy/ But you’re not here/ Violently happy/ Come calm me down/ Before I get into trouble”. She has described the song as:

Violently Happy is about when you’re a junkie on exchanging emotion, not at one but at the level 200…When you’re with that person you’re really peaceful because you get what you need back… And that person goes away and all that exchange is not there so you get your kicks elsewhere, you end up running on rooftops in blizzards, drinking 97 tequilas just to feel. So it starts off really happy then the longer the person’s away from you, it starts getting self-destructive.

The music video plays off this manic state by putting Bjork and others in a padded room. (Side note: The Walking Dead actor Norman Reddus is one of the many actors in the video).

The other side of the coin is love for jazz music. Her influence from the 1990 side project Gling-Gló, of which included many jazz songs translated into icelandic and sung by Bjork. The songs “Like Someone in Love”, “Aeroplane”, and “The Anchor Song” really dive into these influences deeply. The Dinah Shore cover “Like Someone in Love” blends the reoccurring harbor/street sounds that trail off numerous tracks, but fill this entire track beautifully, with a harp and her vocals. I love how delicate and open the song feels, almost like walking past a sweet performance on the street. It always makes me smile. “Aeroplane” brings in ambient jungle sounds along with saxophones, keys, and bass. Bjork pines deeply over the man whose a long makes her ache to be with him, “He’s away, this ain’t right/ I’m alone, I’m taking an aeroplane/ Across the world to follow my heart”. This is probably one of the most unique jazz numbers on the album. “The Anchor Song” closes out the album in a haunting call and response between Bjork and saxophonists. It’s simplicity is it’s greatest strength. Her love for the ocean and seaside dwelling comes off like a beacon of light through the morning fog in these accapella moments, “I live by the ocean/ And during the night/ I dive into it/ Down to the bottom/ Underneath all currents/ And drop my anchor/ As this is where I’m staying/ This is my home”.

Some of the final influences come in the way of the rising Brighton trip-hop sound that was coming up in England in the early 90s. “Venus as a Boy” is a shining example of one of her most lyrically gorgeous in her entire catalog. It’s blend of lush strings, unique instrumental samples, and hypnotically driving beat puts the song over the top when Bjork’s souring vocals are added in. Through this trance like state, you are given the description of a man who understand’s this woman’s most intimate needs perfectly, “His wicked sense of humor/ Suggests exciting sex/ His fingers they focus on her and touches/ He’s Venus as a boy”. “Come to Me” and “One Day” continue to play with this pseudo-trip-hop theme. “Come to Me” is a wash of synth and strings that almost puts you in a trance as Bjork coos “Come to me/ I’ll take care of you/ Protect you/ Calm, calm down”. The song’s inherent warmth and atmospheric nature add the protective feeling behind her lyrics. “One Day” mixes the wash of synth and beats with an eastern feel. She continues with a theme of reassurance, letting you know to keep going as one day all your hard work will reap many rewards.

“Big Time Sensuality” is a jubilant romp through the joys of the unknown and the intimacy it can bring both with someone and just with life in general. When discussing her music, Bjork told Record Collector magazine this about the track:

A lot of my songs — including Big Time Sensuality — are about my friends, not my lovers. It’s not erotic or sensual even if it may sound like that. As you know, you create pretty deep, full-on love relationships with friends… It’s a lot about me dealing with myself rather than attacking other people.

The album version of the song is much more spritely, containing bouncy organs, bubbly beats, and Bjork’s trademark scat-like vocals. The music video, shot by Stéphane Sednaoui, uses a remixed version of the track (The Fluke Minimix). She would re-record the vocals for “Big Time Sensuality” for the Plaid Mix, a b-side from the Post era.

The album is a strong start to a legendary career. Some of the songs on the album have aged a bit: “One Day”, “Come to Me”, “Crying”, and “Violently Happy” being prime examples. Bjork has done a phenomenal job reinventing these tracks on subsequent tours. The others still stand as fairly timeless, strong examples of Bjork’s unique brand of pop.

The stand out tracks on the album

  • “Human Behavior”
  • “Venus as a Boy”
  • “Big Time Sensuality”
  • “One Day”
  • “The Anchor Song”

As it stands in her catalog and in popular music, I have to give the album a solid 7 out of 10.



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Z-sides: Music Reviews

Welcome to my personal blog. This is a place where I discuss any of my musical finds or faves. Drop in and have a listen.